Protesters rallied almost instantaneously after Jamar Clark was shot by Minneapolis police. Unicorn Riot has been at their side from the get-go. The fledgling media crew filmed from the front lines of the I-94 shutdown, the Fourth Precinct occupation, and the march downtown.
The scrappy alternative news collective is embedded in the Minneapolis protests, live tweeting and streaming more than two weeks’ worth of demonstrations, occasionally editing and posting from a van one of its cohorts has slept in near the occupied police station.
“We’re not just getting information,” says co-founder Niko Georgiades. “We’re living with them, talking with them.”
Unicorn Riot launched this spring as a decentralized media group with comrades in Denver, Boston, and New York City. Its mission is to unearth the roots of social struggles and find solutions, guided by the clichéd but noblest adage of giving a voice to the voiceless.
The seedlings emerged after the founders and mustachioed cameraman Lorenzo Serna went to Ferguson, Missouri on a contract assignment for another media organization. Georgiades calls the voyage an “eye-opener” once it set in that the company had complete control of what they produced.
“We wanted to have autonomy over our own thoughts and ideals as to how we’re going to edit it or put out media,” the 33-year-old says.
With backgrounds in media, organizing, and the “social justice realm,” the team formally launched Unicorn Riot this spring. Serna had experience livestreaming Occupy Wall Street protests. Georgiades says 4,000-plus people streamed along with them during the first-night freeway stoppage. Some archived clips have cracked 25,000 views without help from YouTube (they refuse to post them there).
The livestream, Georgiades waxes, offers a fuller experience, documenting “the truth unbiased.” While a front page picture might portray a scene one way, it doesn’t capture the entire POV of those with boots on the ground.
“You can live in this protest through a livestream, because you are able to see and witness what people there are seeing and witnessing,” he contends.
Beyond the livestreams and archived posts, Georgiades and Serna host Unicorn Riot’s weekly news show, Deprogram. The commercial-free, roughly 60-to-90-minute episodes touch on everything from homelessness in Denver to free organic markets in Minneapolis, and occasional international stories.
Without ad money, Unicorn Riot’s operations are aided by donations. Under a Creative Commons license, its content is free for noncommercial entities to share and redistribute (though Georgiades has accused several mainstream news companies of jacking its footage). Sure, everybody’s gotta eat. But the indie media group isn’t interested in any sort of corporate structure.
“It’s not like we’re just out here trying to make money to do a news story,” Georgiades says. “We’re trying to find a better solution for a better world.”